With the return of the Premier League, it can be easy to forget about the protests in the last few days and zone out by watching Manchester City battle Arsenal for an hour and a half. Watching Aguero score a couple of goals will feel like a return to normality for many football fans, but we shouldn’t let the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement fizzle out.
Fundamental changes are needed – in sport especially. Football is an incredible sport, with players of different nationalities and ethnicities coming together, yet off the pitch at the boardroom level, ethnic minority representation is severely lacking.
A recent report published by the Daily Telegraph found that ‘no Premier League club has a black owner, chairman or chief executive’ and ‘64 per cent of funded national governing bodies have no black and minority ethnic (BAME) board members at all’, highlighting the idea that football is multicultural and inclusive is misleading.
It’s all well and good for Arsenal players wearing ‘Black Lives Matter’ training tops, but a club that doesn’t have a single black executive needs to do more.
There were recent calls for the Premier League to follow the Football League in implementing the so-called Rooney Rule for the recruitment of BAME managers, yet the Premier League chose not to introduce it.
The Rooney Rule would have required clubs to interview at least one person of colour for a managerial position, a form of affirmative action or positive discrimination. It seems to work well in the NFL, so why not here?
Football clubs need to do more. Uploading a supportive Instagram post with the appropriate hashtag just won’t cut it. Liverpool was praised for their picture of players and staff taking a knee in solidarity with the movement, but this is anti-racism as a PR exercise. An attempt to present themselves as taking a stand against racism, when in reality they’re doing very little of actual substance to achieve a systemic change to increase diversity in the ‘beautiful game’.
This is the same Liverpool that allowed their players and manager to wear training tops in support of Luis Suarez 24 hours after he was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra.
It’s far easier to get your social media team to upload a supportive graphic to Instagram or change the colour of your logo than put in the work behind the scenes for significant change that will see more BAME coaches and executives into senior managerial positions. I’m all for the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ to be printed on the back of football shirts and social media posts to be made, as long as more sizeable efforts are made as well.
Governing bodies are not void of responsibility either. UEFA have expressed support for the movement, but their current punishment system for racist behaviour in stadiums is abysmal. Following the racist chanting of Bulgarian fans when England played them in 2019, UEFA ordered them to play one match behind closed doors and issued a fine. Is that really sending a strong deterrent that racism is not tolerated in football?
England’s under-21 coach Michael Johnson described the punishment as a ‘joke’ and said that a ‘lack of diversity means lack of understanding and empathy’. This was further supported by the former footballer Les Ferdinand, who said that FIFA and UEFA ‘may as well have stood in the stands’ with the racists.
Despite this, it’s inspiring that many footballers have been proactive in confronting racism in recent days. Rather than being passive, some have taken an active role in speaking up about past experiences they have faced and pledged to help those less fortunate than themselves. Tyrone Mings took to the streets in Birmingham, Raheem Sterling appeared on Newsnight, and Marcus Rashford helped a children’s meal fund provide meals to children.
Ultimately, if the clubs and governing bodies took greater steps to diversify their boardrooms, it would hopefully be the start of substantive change in football. These are more than just brands and football teams.
For many young people, these teams act as role models and are looked up to. Let’s just hope that people don’t forget that this is the time for change.